Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coffee kitchens and cleaning balconies

During a translation last week, I happened upon SAP's bilingual glossary, which contains a curious entry for something called a "Kaffeeküche". I can easily imagine what this is: essentially, a Teeküche -- a kitchen in an office building where employees make themselves something to drink or pop their lasagna from home into the microwave. I recently had trouble translating Teeküche (which literally means "tea-kitchen"), so I was all the more surprised to find that SAP staff apparently drink coffee, not tea. At any rate, I learned a new German word, which produces some 40,000 Google hits -- roughly a quarter of the number of hits for Teeküche.

Although one prominent online bilingual dictionary claims that the translation of "Kaffeeküche" is "coffee kitchen," I have never heard of such a thing, and the first hits that I come across do not suggest that such a term exists. Whether you use it to make coffee or tea (or heat up lasagna), native English speakers will probably just call the thing a "kitchen."

I came across another bizarre case last month, when I had to translate Putzbalkon. Basically, this German word is a compound noun that could be transliterated as "cleaning balcony"; the only problem is that there is no such thing. You can get an image of it here - and I don't see anything there that I would call a balcony.

After some thought, it occurred to me that we are simply talking about "ledges." I informed the client, who then insisted that we call the thing a "cleaning ledge" -- in an attempt, I suppose, to somehow retain the Putz- part of the German. Hopefully (I have not seen the publication yet), my argument was convincing and the client indeed just speaks of "ledges" in the English. I insisted that the German needed the Putz- bit because the main stem of the word was "balcony", whereas "ledge" is clearly distinct and needs no further descriptor.

Such is the daily work of a translator, even in technical fields.


  1. I don't think Putz refers to cleaning in this context. I think it means plaster, so I would second your suggestion of "ledge." Ledges are made of plaster. I think of Putzbalkons to be non-functioning balconies - more for aesthetics than actual use.

  2. Thanks - interesting interpretation. If you look at the image I provided, do you see any plaster? The website concerns "Metallbau", but maybe they are talking about part of the wall -- hard to see at that resolution. Anyway, the "cleaning" interpretation was the client's, not mine ;-)

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